Why you still don’t have abs.

This is part 1 of MANY that I’ll be doing dedicated towards PROPER core work 🙂


One of the most common questions that I get as a personal trainer is how can I get abs? I will say right off the bat that abs are built in the kitchen, you can NOT out train a bad diet, but this isn’t about the diet. This is about how I see many people doing crunch after crunch, leg raise after leg raise and not seeing anywhere near the development they want. So I apologize if this gets a bit nerdy but if you understand this you’ll be well on your way to getting those abs that you want.

What I’m about to share took me years to figure out; countless reps of crunches, leg lifts, sit-ups and other foolish ab exercises that I won’t even mention. I’ve been in the fitness industry for over a decade now and this information is over a decade’s worth of hard leaning.

Everyone wants them but how come they are so damn hard to develop!? With diet aside (though is my opinion its one of the MOST important figures in the abdominal equation), people are split up into two groups with ab work: first group does countless reps and spends hours a week on ab development. The second group hates doing them because of boredom or out of frustration because after being in group one they did not get the results they wanted.

For 75% of gym goers crunches and leg raises don’t develop the abs; for the other 25% about half those exercises DO work and then there is the other smaller percentage that just have a six pack and they don’t do anything (I hate them too). This article is dedicated towards that 75%, but the others can read this too, you may lean how to make your abs “pop” even better.

The Anatomy You May Not Know

WAIT! Before you stop reading because of the science lesson please read this, you will need to just understand a bit of this to get that epiphany on what you may or may not have been doing.


This is what you thought you were working                                                                        This is ACTUALLY what you are working!


Gym goers know:

Rectus Abdominis: AKA the six pack muscle we all are wanting

External Obliques: AKA “the calvin klein” muscle; also called the “love handles”

Internal Obliques:  involved in flexing the spinal column, sideways bending, trunk rotation and compressing (remember that word) the abdomen

Transverse Abdomins: This is what I call the “girdle” muscle (this is what’s responsible for having the concave “sucked-in” look.)


What you may not know:

Psoas Major/Minor: Primary flexor of the hip and when your feet are anchored it’s a powerful truck flexor (does this sound like a familiar exercise)

Quadratus Lumborm: Muscle deep in the back and is responsible for lateral flexion of the torso, side bends (how many of you have done these?)

What I find is the reason that 75% can’t get abdominal development is that the muscles they most likely were working were the psoas muscles and the quadratus laumorm (there are other muscles that may be involved… ie hip flexors). Now you may be thinking: “when I do my ab work I feel my abs working”. My response is “do you really?” If really did you would be seeing those results that you want and if your not… well belive it or not you probably not working that abdominal wall.

Let me explain:

Flexing Contraction vs. Static Contraction.

Now there is a difference between the two. Now true flexing contraction is the movement of bringing two muscular ends closer together and static contraction is when contraction is occuring but the muscular ends ARE NOT coming closer together. Lets look at the bicep muscle to demonstrate what I mean.



Muscle contracting                                                                                                                   Muscle Flexing


When most people do their ab exercises majority of the time the abdominal wall is flexing  but not contracting; this may explain why the heck what your doing is not getting the great burn or development that your spending time working for.  Don’t get me wrong flexing your abdominal wall the entire time will garnish you some results, about 15% of what you’re expecting for the amount of reps your doing.

So back to our original point, your abdominal wall was most likely flexing but not contracting. What was contracting was the psoas mucles, quadratus laumorm, and hip flexors (which I’m sure all of you have felt your hip flexors burn in leg lifts).

Why does this happen? Well this brings me to the next point…

The Path of Least Resistance

The human body is an amazing piece of work, what we can do and accomplish sometimes goes beyond human reason and understanding. Then what we CAN’T do or make ourselves understand just frustrates us (aka developing a six pack)!

There is a principle that describes easiest pathway that an individual or object will take the pathway of motion that requires the least amount of work or effort; we call this the path of least resistance. Examples consist of water flowing downhill follows the path of least resistance as its being pulled forward by gravity; storms flow on the path of least resistance by flowing toward zones of low barometric pressure, where lower air density offers less resistance to the storm system than higher pressure zones. This principle (in metaphorical theory) can also be used to describe human behavior, most people are typically going to do the least amount of work to garnish the desired result.

The human body follows these this same principle as well; if its given the task or command to move a weight from point A to point B its going to find the easiest way to accomplish that task. A lot of the times this does not always include using the muscles we want to develop… UNLESS our bodies are put in a position that our only option is for us to use the desired muscle.

So what does all of this mean? Well in short your body was trying to find the easiest way to lift your torso and legs and ended up using other muscles besides your abdominal wall (which were statically contracting and NOT flexing contracting). The infamous psoas muscles quadratus lamorum and hip flexors, those are the muscles that are well developed and toned NOT YOUR ABS! Too bad we can’t see those because I bet those would be quite impressive 😉

***On a side note, I’m know that I’m giving the psoas mucles and quadratus lamorum muscles a hard time but these muscles are VERY inessential in keeping your hips and back stabilized, not to mention assistance with everyday actives. So don’t think that we don’t need them because life would be so much harder without them.***

The Test

Phew…. Now I hope this has given you some idea on why the abdominal development hasn’t been happening, and your probably saying to yourself “That’s great and all but what do I need to do now?” Well let me get to that.

Here is your first test to see if first have abdominal coordination (poor coordination equates to misdirected strength and lack of abdominal development)



***You MUST keep the small of your back on the ground the ENTIRE time, especially in these leg raises!***



Note: Men should be able to lower their legs all the way down and bring them back up without a decrease in lower back pressure. Women should be able to lower to about 30degrees due to structural differences in the pelvo-hip complex.Lay flat on your back and bring your legs straight up to 90 degrees from the floor (can’t bring your legs up that high? First you need to STRETCH, but then just slightly bend your knees) Place either your fingers or someone else’s (see pic above) underneath the small of your back, about belly button level. Contract your abdominal area and press your pelvis back applying pressure to the fingers underneath your lower back. From here see how low you can lower your legs WITHOUT letting your back arch/rise up off the floor or feeling a decrease in pressure on the fingers below your lower back. When your back begins to rise will indicate how strong your lower abdominal strength will be.

So where were you, or how far did you go!? If you were able to go all the way to the ground then that’s amazing we just need to get you to work those abs in those continued angles. Now if you were not able to go that far down that’s OK (for some it’s a humbling experience) we just now have a starting point.

Still think this is crap? You could be saying “So what it was just a different exercise and those are always hard, if I put my hands underneath my butt I can do a whole lot more…” You know what, you are right on multiple levels, yes this is a new exercise and it will always be more difficult the first time AND if you do place your hands under your rear you can do a whole lot more reps… but do you have great abs? When you put your hands underneath your butt your just putting your spine in a slightly supported arch, this stretches the psoas out and gives it the ability to contract. Remember you body is going to take the path of least resistance and so far it’s easier for your body to complete the motion using the hip muscles and NOT the lower abdominal wall.

Want further proof? When you do crunches or especially leg raises does your lower back hurt? I promise that’s not abdominal burn my friends…



Keep on the lookout for my next post where I talk about the steps to do to garnish that coveted six pack 🙂


In Health and Fitness,




Travis Merritt, BS, CPT is the owner of Fitness Revolution in Rowlett, TX.

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  1. Jay & Ashley says

    We love you Travie Boy!

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